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Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

by Eric W. Sanderson

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On September 12, 1609, Henry Hudson first set foot on the land that would become Manhattan. Today, it’s difficult to imagine what he saw, but for more than a decade, landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson has been working to do just that. Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City is the astounding result of those efforts, reconstructing in words and


On September 12, 1609, Henry Hudson first set foot on the land that would become Manhattan. Today, it’s difficult to imagine what he saw, but for more than a decade, landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson has been working to do just that. Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City is the astounding result of those efforts, reconstructing in words and images the wild island that millions now call home. By geographically matching an 18th-century map with one of the modern city, examining volumes of historic documents, and collecting and analyzing scientific data, Sanderson re-creates the forests of Times Square, the meadows of Harlem, and the wetlands of downtown. His lively text guides readers through this abundant landscape, while breathtaking illustrations transport them back in time. Mannahatta is a groundbreaking work that provides not only a window into the past, but also inspiration for the future.

Editorial Reviews

Robert Sullivan
The fact-intense charts, maps and tables offered in abundance here are fascinating, and even kind of sexy. And at the very middle of the book, the two-page spread of Mannahatta in all its primeval glory—the visual denouement of a decade's research—feels a little like a centerfold. Sanderson quotes The Great Gatsby: "Gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world." Upon closing this remarkable book, you feel revved up, at the very least, and are likely to see a way to build a future that is more aligned with what once was than with what can no longer be.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In this brilliantly illustrated volume, Sanderson and Boyer recreate the ecology of Manhattan as it was that 1609 September afternoon when Henry Hudson first saw it, "prodigious in its abundance, resplendent in its diversity." The project began as a simple thought exercise, when senior Bronx Zoo ecologist Sanderson (Human Footprint: Challenges for Wilderness and Biodiversity) tried visualizing pre-colonial Manhattan, but was promoted to full-blown science project after Sanderson discovered an "extraordinary" 1776 British Headquarters Map detailing the island's natural terrain. Developing a "georeference" system to coordinate the old map, Sanderson "relates its depiction of the old hills and valleys to their modern addresses." From there, he reconstructs data missing from the historical record using standard scientific tools-examining pollen layers, tree rings, archeological information, etc. Sanderson's text integrates political and sociological history; examines the culture of the original inhabitants, the Lenape (their word Mannahatta means "Island of Many Hills"); and covers a wealth of ecological data; he even shares his vision for the ecologically sustainable city of 2409. This wise and beautiful book, sure to enthrall anyone interested in NYC history, boasts maps, charts, photos and artist renderings, thorough appendices (including Lenape place-names and Manhattan's flora and fauna), and an extensive section of "Notes, Sources, and Elaborations." 120 color illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

New York Magazine
For the last 400 years, since Henry Hudson arrived on these shores, Manhattan has been a place where people have seen what they wanted to see, and then remade it in that image. It's been a Rauschenberg canvas, built out, cut away, layered thick with new visions, with little thought to what was there before, after which the new visions are torn away themselves. But before the towers and brownstones, before the street grid and infill, before Bloomingdale Road, before Broadway, before the farms, before the British, before the Dutch, before Henry Hudson himself, was a place called Mannahatta, island of many hills. New research by Eric W. Sanderson, a landscape ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at the Bronx Zoo, augmented by digital re-creations by Markley Boyer-their work is the basis of an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York opening May 20 and a new book, Mannahatta, published by Abrams next month-has opened a window onto what New York City was like before Europeans arrived. The window has remarkable resolution-the height of the hills, the species of trees, the wandering paths of the creeks-geo-referenced to the current street grid.
Library Journal

The pristine island of Mannahatta that Henry Hudson set foot upon in 1609 was known in the native Lenape language as "the island of many hills," where wolves and black bears roamed forests and meadows. Exactly 400 years later, the human footprint of the island has all but erased the erstwhile natural splendor, but, thanks to this book's striking images, we can at least glimpse what it was like. Sanderson, a landscape ecologist and New Yorker, spearheaded the Mannahatta Project to reconstruct Manhattan's ecological history. Using period maps, descriptions, archaeological findings, and a variety of other primary sources combined with some cutting-edge technologies for computational geography, Sanderson and illustrator Boyer produced vivid pictures of the forests, ponds, hills, wetlands, and other distinctive ecosystems that covered what was to become the concrete metropolis. Especially striking are split images that juxtapose today's urban patchwork with the same landscape, in its primeval splendor. The text describes the project itself, the lives of the indigenous peoples, the varied ecological neighborhoods, and a future peek at what New York City might look like in another 400 years. You don't have to be a New Yorker to be enthralled by this book. Highly recommended for all libraries. [The Mannahatta/Manhattan exhibition will be on display at the Museum of the City of New York, May 20-Oct. 13.-Ed.]
—Gregg Sapp

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Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
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Meet the Author

Eric W. Sanderson is the Associate Director for Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis in the Living Landscape Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo. He is an expert in the application of geographic principles and techniques to problems in wildlife, landscape, and ecological conservation. He lives in New York City.

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